Bill 21: Waive fees, expand eligible buildings under Maui emergency permitting policy

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the Maui County Council on Jan. 26, 2024.

Jan. 26, 2024, 9 a.m.

To: Alice Lee, Chair
      Yuki Lei Sugimura, Vice-Chair
      Maui County Council

From: Joe Kent, Executive Vice President
            Grassroot Institute of Hawaii


Comments only

Aloha Chair Lee, Vice-Chair Sugimura and Councilmembers,

Thank you for considering Bill 21, which if enacted would reform the County’s emergency housing permitting policies to help facilitate a quicker recovery for the residents of Lahaina and elsewhere on Maui who were affected by the disastrous wildfires of Aug. 8, 2023.

Overall, Bill 21 accords with the policy memo that Grassroot President and CEO Keli’i Akina sent last week to Gov. Josh Green, Mayor Richard Bissen and other state, county and federal officials, including each of you on the Maui County Council.

The memo recommended that Maui officials “amend the County’s emergency permitting statute to speed up approval times, waive building permit fees and expand the types of structures to which the statute applies.”[1]

As you can imagine, we were very pleased to hear about the introduction last week of Bill 21, which indeed would expand the types of structures to which Subsection 105.2.2 of the Maui County Code applies.

Under Bill 21, the County’s emergency permitting code would be broadened to cover not only the “alteration and repairs of one- and-two family dwellings and accessory structures” in disaster-affected areas, but also the “reconstruction and new construction” of other types of residential structures, as well as other types of structures, such as commercial buildings — even if they were completely destroyed.

On the downside, Bill 21 would extend the emergency approval process from seven to 15 days, and would continue to allow only deferral rather than waiver of permit fees for residential structures.

In particular, Paragraph E of Subsection 105.2.2 currently says county building officials “may defer” all plan review and building permit fees for one- and two-family dwellings “upon written request by the applicant.”[2]

Bill 21 would keep that language mostly intact, but would add that “permit fees for commercial structures may not be deferred,” and that “the permit fee for the reconstruction of recently built residential structures or commercial structures using previously approved construction plans may be assessed at 50% of the permit fee.”

To these points, we recommend that Paragraph E be amended to simply read:

 Permit fees. The building official shall [may] waive [defer] all plan review and [building] permit fees upon written request by the applicants.

 As reported in Honolulu Civil Beat, many Maui residents and business owners did not have adequate insurance coverage to cover their fire-related losses, and it will be a financial struggle for them to rebuild their homes and businesses.[3]

Waiving all permit fees would advance the goal of reducing barriers to the construction of temporary shelters, long-term housing and businesses in Maui’s disaster-affected areas.

We thank the Council for considering this bill and welcome any dialogue with you about this topic.

Joe Kent
Executive vice president
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

[1] Keli’i Akina, “Re: Maui Interim Housing Plan,” Jan. 18, 2023, p. 3.
[2] Maui County Code, Chapter 16.25, Article 1, Section 105, Subsection 105.2.2, accessed Jan. 24, 2024.
[3] Kristin Downey, “Maui’s Fire Victims Are Frustrated By Insurance Hassles, Financial Delays,” Honolulu Civil Beat, Sept. 28, 2023.

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